At this point you either love or hate wearing a face mask--and probably feel some sense of COVID burnout. We’re continuing to spend our days longing for a return to “normal” as pages of the calendar turn by. But what is the “normal” that we’re looking forward to?
It definitely won’t look like where we left off in 2019, but how will it look? And how can we make the most out of our new “normal”?
To start, face masks might’ve been a burden to wear, but they’ve now become everyday outfit staples that serve as both pieces of expression and utility.
The Fashion and Function History of Face Masks
Face masks joined the world’s daily attire during the Covid 2019 pandemic after mention that COVID spread via respiratory droplets. To reduce the spread of these droplets, public health officials advised the public to wear masks.
Right at the beginning, though, PPE shortages and communication inconsistencies made it difficult for many people to get a hold of masks and understand the requirements for the safest masks. Many people around the world started to make their own masks at home as a response, and we got to see how creative people could be with their designs and patterns.
However, masks didn’t just become popular in fashion due to COVID. Many countries, especially in Asia, already had a preexisting culture of wearing fashionable, reusable masks. The Asian mask adapted culture lingered from the aftermath of the 2003 SARS outbreak. Although SARS cases eventually went away, people still wore surgical masks during peak cold and flu season, or if they felt sick. Rather than because of a mandate, individuals chose to wear masks in these cases as a way to be courteous and conscientious of others they interacted with and express their hygienic concerns.
Mask wearing began as a method of preventing viral spread of illnesses, but also found other uses in Asia. For example, in Japan, during allergy season, people typically wear masks to avoid breathing in pollen. In China, people wear them when air quality worsens due to pollution. This health measure has spread to places like California that experience seasonal poor air quality due to recurrent forest fires. In Asia, some people even wore masks pre-COVID just to cover their faces in place of doing makeup.
Wearing a mask became such a normal practice in the Asian market that companies started making reusable masks in fashionable designs to match every outfit. Brands like Airpop and products like the popular Japanese black Pitta masks became common, and even pop groups sold logoed mask lines for fans in various sizes.
Pre-COVID, the global mask market was projected at around 465.4 million USD, but it’s now predicted to grow 22.7% annually through 2027 as more and more people enter masking culture and fashionable brands offer their own take on reusable masks.
During the pandemic, many brands responded to the combination of a drop in consumer clothing demand and mask shortages by temporarily shifting manufacturing focus to mask production. These brands – popular names like Christian Siriano – benefited from the positive PR and expanded publicity opportunity.
A New Culture of Face Masks
Since COVID first highlighted often ignored hygienic issues, face masks may still play a role in daily life post-pandemic. We may still wear them religiously for the next few years as everyone gets vaccinated and cases slowly die down. We may only wear them during allergy or flu and cold season to keep ourselves healthy. We may even wear them just to avoid showing face on a “no makeup” day to save a few extra minutes in the morning. Regardless of the reason to wear them, face masks will continue to be a part of our worldwide ensemble outside of the Asian continent and will motivate consumers to step up their head-to-toe fashion game.
This offers an exciting opportunity for fashion brands to make their own face masks and take over a new field of clothing. By developing a face mask product that blends closely with the rest of a brand’s products in style, cut, and color, brands will be able to finally give their customers a full top-to-bottom experience in their products. Some large brands have already begun developing their own masks aligning with their company’s style and design aesthetic like:
- Uniqlo, which offers masks in their patented fabric
- Polo Ralph Lauren, incorporating their famous pony logo on the corner of their masks
- Fendi making face mask covers that match a full outfit ensemble
Most commonly, the outer and inner fabrics of reusable masks are made with a tightly knit, but breathable material like cotton. Some best practices for mask construction as outlined from health advisors includes using non-woven materials like felted wool or polypropylene fabric for the mask’s filter or interfacing layer.
These materials can easily be found and sourced from a variety of global textile hubs. Using a non-woven and polypropylene fabric at least as the middle filter layer of mask construction will help prevent the flow of viruses and can be easily paired with any other breathable fabric or design to your masks. With these specifications, there’s a lot of flexibility for designers and creative minds to incorporate their own spirit in each face mask design.